Surprise Source for Newspapers’ Woes

A lot of what’s causing heartache for newspaper finances across the land is flying under the radar. Most pundits point to the availability of news online, which is all very good as one contributing factor, and others chart the migration of ads from print to online–or to oblivion in these trying times.

However, as both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Cleveland Plain Dealer announced restructurings over the weekend (the Star Tribune through bankruptcy), the bedrock of newspapers’ financial survival has been gobbled up by Craigslist and other free online advertising venues.

That would be the least flashiest aspect of the business–newspaper classified ads.

So, while newspaper readership is marginally down, classified advertising is hemhorraging. Analyze it as you may, but the bottom line is that newspapers are an endangered species, at least the big-city variety.

Which is all too sad.

There’s Strength in Numbers, Or Is There?

Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon have come out with a new book, and a Web site of the same name, called I Hate People.

What it reveals–and what took me almost my entire professional career to figure out–is that you can’t trust anyone at work. They’ll all stab you in the back or throw you under the bus in an instant–if it somehow helps them.

Now, back to my headline. I could examine the saying, "There’s strength in numbers," from a perspective of where it came from and what it means, but I’d rather cue it into the book, I Hate People.

The authors reveal that forty or so years ago, Fortune magazine did a survey of qualities employers most sought in employees. Teamwork ranked tenth. In a similar survey done by the magazine in 2005, teamwork had jumped to number one.

How depressing, considering that the only people who love teams are those who command their appearance and those blowhards who worm their way into taking charge of them to feed their egos.

Hershon and Littman cite an experiment by a French engineer named Maximilien Ringelmann, who measured people’s efforts pulling on a rope attached to a strain gauge. Pulling in groups, people exerted themselves less; pulling alone, they gave it their all.

This has come to be known as "social loafing," or simply the "Ringelmann Effect."

Either way, it accounts for the futility of throwing teams at a problem. Better to give a million monkeys one typewriter each and see how long it takes them to recreate the Great Books of the Western World.

Must Reading: ‘Short History of Financial Euphoria’

I’m not sure when he wrote the first edition of his A Short History of Financial Euphoria, but the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith updated it in 1990 following the stock market crash of 1987 and then the savings and loan meltdown of the late 1980s. Those times seem tame compared to what’s transpiring now. Unfortunately, Mr. Galbraith is no longer around to blame our all current problems on Republicans, as he does in this book. (At least in his The Great Crash 1929, he finds plenty of blame to spread around, including to the Federal Reserve.)

I call this book, which is really only a hundred or so pages long and can be read in an hour, must reading because it confirms what should be obvious: Crashes develop because of greed and speculation. What may not be obvious–in fact, I know it’s not that obvious to the general publi–is that greed and speculation arise only after the government fans the flames of, well, greed and speculation by…

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Spelling Bee Challenge–Spell the Winner’s Name!

2009 Spelling Bee Champion Kavya ShivashankarI’d probably have had an easier time figuring out how to spell the winning word in this year’s National Spelling Bee than I would in spelling the winner’s name.

Laodicean, meaning lukewarm to politics, was the deciding word for Kavya (phonetic and easy) Shivashankar (actually, pretty phonetic as well), the 13-year-old winner. Actually, I take it all back–Ms. Shavishankar’s name is the easier one since the c in Laodicean could be confused with sh or ch.

I was happy to note the use of some attempted humor in constructing sentences using the challenge words, as in:

"While Lena’s geusioleptic cooking wowed her boyfriend, what really melted his heart was that she won the National Spelling Bee."

I doubt anyone will be using geusioleptic (tasty) anytime soon when yum and yummy work just as well.

Mastering the Art of French English Writing

I recently picked up a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by the late and absolutely great chef Julia Child in preparation for a book I was and still am considering to write

While I’ve tried, so far, one of her recipes–the first one, in fact, for Potage Promentier (potato-leek soup)–what truly impresses me about this book is the the absolutely simple, clear and understandable English that Julia used in writing it. No wonder it became the revolutionary cookbook that changed American cooking and eating habits.

Julia Child was an American, of course, who found herself in France with her husband while he was on a diplomatic mission. She soon mastered the French language but also French cuisine, whch she shares in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Even if you have no intention of learning to cook French food, Julia’s book–at least the introduction in which she tells the story of her years in Paris–is a must read to see how beautiful simply written English can be.

Back in her day, people communicated largely by letter since phones were still too expensive and still pretty scarce. People were foced to learn how to make themselves understood in writing. It clearly shows in this masterful work.

How Far Will Obama Go to Be the ‘Un-Bush’?

In more obfuscation and lawyerese, Obama and his stormtroopers have now exorcised reality from the English language.

Instead of "war on terror" or "war on terrorism," they’re using "overseas contingency operations," and instead of "acts of terror," they’re referring to "man-caused disasters."

George Orwell would be proud, in a negative sort of way, of course.

All of this prompted satirist Joe Queenan to rewrite some Talibanic sayings. In his reworking, "beheadings" become "cephalic attrition" and "flayings" have morphed into "unsolicited epidermal reconfigurations."

Oh, my, and at least another four years of this nonsense out of the nation’s capital, or rather, four more years of this "syntactic reconsideration and reconstitution," otherwise known in plain language, as "utter bullshit."

They Have a Passin for the Sport, but Not for Spellng

Washington Nationals jerseys misspelled Natinals

Somehow I’m not buying the reason the Washington Nationals are giving for some of their players’ wearing misspelled Natinals uniform tops over the weekend. Supposedly, they had to send their opening-day jerseys to MLB offices for display, and the replacement uniforms arrived with the misspelling. Mean to tell me the club supplied only one uniform for the players and had to order replacements that somehow got misspelled? Anyway, here they are in full glory.

Jawaharlal Nehru Shows the Fruits of Classical Education

Probably to almost every American born from 1970 on, perhaps even much earlier, the name Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) draws a shrug if not some stupid mocking of his name, "Jawawawa who?" or the sort that, unfortunately, Americans are prone to utter to hide their ignorance and to bring everyone down to their own level. Following on the heels of the work of Mahatma Gandhi in leading the overthrow of British rule in India, Nehru served as the modern nation’s first prime minister from 1947 until his death in 1964. He was pretty much a communist who allied his country with the Soviet Union, but we can forgive him that since later on Indian awoke to the powers of freedom and free enterprise. Perhaps his iron grip was needed in the formative days of his nation.

Nehru was educated in Great Britian and was widely read in the true meaning of a classical education. He went on to found many of India’s top institutions of higher education while in office and firmly believed in the power of education. And in the power of words.

I’m reading his remarkable Glimpses of World History, which he wrote while in prison by Great Britain for the sixth time for agitating for statehood and overthrow of the British. What’s remarakble is that he wrote everything from memory and seems to have grasped the broad range–and depths–of world history with remarkable clarity, vision and understanding. The book was gathered and compiled from letters he wrote in prison to his daughter, whose name may be more familiar with Americans, but I doubt it for the newer generations. Her name was Indira Gandhi.

When I started reading Glimpses, I came across this magical description of the passage of time from the perspective of a man serving his sixth prison term for an ideal he so passionately believed in. It reminded me of the passage of my own infinitely more meaningless years on earth:

"It was winter when I came. Winter gave place to our brief spring, slain all too soon by the summer heat, and then, when the ground was parched and dry and men and beasts panted for breath, came the monsoon, with its bountiful supply of fresh and cool rain-water. Autumn followed, and the sky was wonderfully clear and blue….The year’s cycle was over, and again it began: winter and spring and summer and the rainy season. I have sat here, writing to you and thinking of you, and watched the seasons go by, and listened to the pitapat of the rain on my barrack roof."

The passage reminded me of the switfness of life and the mortality that is built into our ever-so-brief days here to enjoy the seasons.

Now for those of you (especially in the media) who think that Obama’s lawyerese and concomitant confidence are somewhere great English, read this passage from Nehru on the independence of his beloved India:

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity."

My but we’ve come a long ways in 50 years–down a steep decline from greatness that once was. 

Obamatalk: False Choices Abound, Full of Sound and Fury and Signifying Nothing

I’ve written here before how I have yet to read or hear anything from or by Barack Obama that is anything other than lawyerly obfuscation and manipulation. The liberal media will go on and on blushing about Obama’s greatness and his poetic language, or whatever they deem transcendent about him that day, but let’s face it–the media have spent so long out in the drenching heat of the political desert that once a good socialist comes along, they’ll do anything to keep him in power. Reality be damned, that sort of thing.

At any rate, let’s just focus on Obama’s use of English to reinforce my point. He’s now resorting to calling every solution except the one offered by him as a "false choice." He’s even used "no choice" many times as well. His goal is to choke off debate, to set up straw men who offer "false" or "no" choices, so you’re left with the proverbial "my way or the highway."

I don’t need to go into this much further since Ben Shapiro in his "Obama’s Childish Vision of Politics" bares it all. Read it and realize you’ve been duped by Obama (or not, depending on your own level of illusion v. reality).

The Slippery Slope of Trying to Sound Different

In trying to sound and look different than George Bush and his administration, Barack Obama and his admininstration are going through several verbal gyrations designed to make their policies appear different than Dubya’s, while of course maintaining the policies intact. This is called appeasing the far left (and the middle and regular left).

Case in point: The Obamian Justice Department sent its minions off to the D.C. District Court recently to argue the administration’s power to incarcerate and detain indefinitely what Bush used to call "enemy combatants"–except they were forbidden to use the words "enemy combatants" so as to appear to be diverging from and rejecting the previous administration’s policies. In fact, of course, they argued they had the same power to detain indefinitely without criminal charges.

So what did they use instead of "enemy combatants"? Try "individuals captured in connection with armed conflicts and counterterrorism operations," also "members of enemy forces," and finally, those who "substantially supported" al Qaeda or the Taliban. Oops, forgot one: "persons who [sic…should be whom] the president determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, and persons who harbored those responsible for the September 11 attacks."

Anyway, these whatevers are still holed up in Quantanamo, which Obama says he will close…as soon as he finds another Quantanamo with a different name. (Why not just rename the place?)